ASU's ice hockey team kicks off their season tonight against Texas A&M. Our newest addition to our writing staff, Nick Marek, is the team's play-by-play announcer and brings us a full season preview.
Despite the NHL lockout fresh in hockey fans minds, the Arizona State Division I hockey team is preparing for another successful season.
The Sun Devils can still taste the bitterness of last year's overtime loss to Oakland in the opening round of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) national tournament. Last year marked the second straight season the Devils were ousted in the first round of the tournament. However, the mentality has changed this year. It is not surprising that the Sun Devils have adopted a motto - Redemption.
Head coach Greg Powers continually recruits top-notch talent to the desert, and this year is no different. He bulked up the roster with the addition of nine new skaters, including promoting defenseman Dan Kuenzi and goaltender Kyle Dietriech from the division two team.
ASU finished last season with a program-best 29-4-3 record, and Powers and his team hopes to do even better this year with all the talent they have. The Sun Devils' offense returns nine of its top ten goal scorers from just a season ago, so they are expected to be a force in the ACHA.
As dominant as the Sun Devils may look on paper, there are still some problems that need to get resolved. Coach Powers struggled to find consistency in his top three lines. Each weekend series, he would make adjustments to the lines aiming to find the best chemistry. We all saw that decision fail in the opening round of nationals.
Captain Colin Hekle experienced somewhat of a sophomore slump as he was forced to play with different teammates all season long. Talk about failing a chemistry exam. Hekle tallied 50 points during his freshman campaign, but last season his offensive production dropped by 11 points. Though he was still third on the team with 20 goals and 39 points, he is hoping for a comeback junior season. In the annual Maroon and Gold Scrimmage game, Powers dressed Hekle with junior David Jantzie and freshman Faiz Khan. This line combination quickly became one of the most dominant threat of the scrimmage. We can expect big things from the Devils' offense once they finalize the depth chart. Freshmen forwards Stephen Collins and Brian McGinty are also highly praised by Powers and should be in line for breakout years.
The blueline pairings for the Sun Devils appear to be very defensive-minded this year. Brian Parson, known for his hard hits and locker room presence, was nominated as one of the three alternate captains this season. Fellow defenseman Ryan Clark will be asked to quarterback the power plays again. Defensively, the Sun Devils will be strong in their own end but their flaw is they lack offensive presence. Freshman Jordan Young may be ASU's answer to that problem. According to Powers, the Cave Creek, Arizona native is possibly the best of the nine rookies. Losing Jason Maltese and Dom Turilli leaves a void the Sun Devils need to fill. Powers will most likely look to the newcomers to play significant minutes.
For sports like baseball and football, it is common knowledge that defense wins championships. For hockey, that same philosophy can be applied. Just ask goaltender Joe D'Elia. The Ontario native transferred to ASU last semester after winning a national club championship his freshman year at Davenport University. Given his experience in the national spotlight, Powers is hoping his leadership can further help the Sun Devils. It is time for ASU to finally survive its first round opponent and D'Elia may be Mr. Reliable. Still, fans should not count out Corey Frank and Kyle Dietriech from the mix. Powers said D'Elia will start for ASU in the home opener, but Frank will be playing half of the game.
It does not matter how much talent the Sun Devils have on paper if they can't survive the schedule. They face the toughest opponents in recent years, including a road trip to Canada and a series against NCAA foe Penn State. If the Sun Devils hope to turn their disappointing 2012 season around, the goal must be transferring their regular season success into the postseason.
Check out these great ASU 2012 Season Highlights